Life is Empty without God
The Vietnam war was a terrible time in the history of wars, even though it seems forgotten now by many. But ask the Veterans who were conscripted, and they will tell you some memories never go away. Back in November 1965, Howard Rutledge was a young American pilot sent on a combat mission over North Vietnam. His aircraft was shot down. He survived by parachuting out of the plane, and was captured by the North Vietnamese. He was a prisoner of war for 7 and a half years. When he was released at the end of the war, he returned home and eventually wrote a best seller called “In the presence of Mine Enemies”. It’s a wonderful book. He died in 1984 aged only 55 years. 5 years of his time as a prisoner of war was in solitary confinement. Rats the size of cats crawled around his cell, It was a shocking 7 years. He was beaten and tortured. His health broke down, and yet he held on somehow. He slept on the concrete and spiders were the size of his wrist.
Howard Rutledge was a Baptist and had attended Sunday school as a kid, and other POW’s looked to him for guidance and comfort. And here’s part of what he wrote in his book ..”In the past I usually played hard on Sundays and had no time for church. My wife wanted me to attend church. She never nagged or scolded- she just kept hoping. But I was too busy, too preoccupied to think about the really important things. Now the sights and sounds of death were all around me ..My hunger for spiritual food soon outdid my hunger for a steak. Now I wanted to know about that part of me that will never die. I wanted to talk about God and Christ and the church. I was in solitary confinement. I had completely neglected the spiritual dimension of my life. It took prison to show me how empty life is without God”.
What this brave man was saying is this. It’s never too late to discover the reality of God in your life. When we are put to the test, as he was, he discovered what is really important in life. And that is faith in God. But he had wasted opportunities in his past on other things, and neglected looking after his inner life. In a prison camp, he desperately wanted to know God.
I sense that for many today life is empty without God. The Psalmist expressed it well in Psalm 90:10 “we may expect 70 years, or maybe 80 if we are healthy; but even our best years bring trouble and sorrow. Suddenly our time is up, and we disappear”. Bible history tells us King Solomon had 700 wives, and 300 concubines, a Palace, and was the richest man in the world. He was the third king that ruled all of Israel. He was the son of King David and Bathsheba. He ruled Israel from 965 to 925 BC. Solomon was the wisest, richest, and most powerful man of his time. His wisdom was spoken of all over the earth. His wealth was far beyond imagination. And yet he said as he neared the end of his life as an old man “all of life is far more boring than words can ever say. Our eyes and ears are never satisfied with what we see and hear. Everything that happens has happened before; nothing is new, nothing under the sun. I have seen it all, and everything is just as senseless as chasing the wind” (Ecclesiastes 1). Solomon, this amazing man, came to a new conclusion in chapter 3 “I know the best thing we can do is always enjoy life, because God’s gift to us is the happiness we get from our food and drink and from the work we do. Everything God has done will last forever; nothing He does can ever be changed. God has done all this so that we will worship Him” (v12-14). This Book of Ecclesiastes although it was written 3,000 years ago makes it clear that every man desires significance and satisfaction and fullness and meaning in life. The problem is people seek it the wrong way and they seek for it in the wrong things ..
What we need is something that will be adequate for every day, that will be life long, and not merely passing, which can cope with the inherent futility of this earthly realm and the brevity of life. What we need cannot be found here, however. It cannot be found under the sun; it can only be found in God .
Someone has said “The poorest person in the world is not the one without a single coin in his hand, but the one without GOD in his heart.” A young man in his twenties wrote, “I feel like a failure because I’m trying to become something, and I don’t even know what it is. All I know how to do is to get by. Someday, if I discover my purpose, I’ll feel I’m beginning to live.”
The Bible says, “Don’t live carelessly, unthinkingly. Make sure you understand what the Master wants” (Ephesians 5:17, The Message). That means – discover Jesus for yourself, and when you do, life takes on a new meaning. You won’t be left to stumble on alone. You will have a definite purpose.
In the Luke and Acts list there is a guy called “Jude”.
Since many of the disciples had two names – Simon Peter and Matthew Levi – it’s quite possible that Thaddaeus and Jude are the same person.
Third thing to say about these 12 is that they are very different men. I just cannot imagine what it was like on the first night or the first week getting those guys together.
Matthew is pro- Rome,
Simon the Zealot is anti-Rome
Some of them are fishermen
There is a whole range of personalities and characters and types (it must have been a weird 12)
But under the leadership of Jesus they have him in common and because they have him in common, they have more in common then they don’t have in common. Just like when you become a Christian, you have more in common with another believer than you have in common with your best unbelieving friend or family member. As soon as you come into Christ you have immeasurable things in common. That’s of course the way we must live.
Think of the little church in Philippi where it starts off with Lydia, a wealthy lady, and then possibly a slave girl and then there was the Roman Jailor. There is the three-some we are given at Philippi. What a three-some to get together into a triplet – and yet in common with Christ.
Now the most remarkable thing fourthly about these 12 men is that the word “appointed” in verse 14 and 16 is actually the word “made”. I got quite a shock when I read this because it says “Jesus made 12 – Jesus made 12”. It’s the same word in the Greek Old Testament in Genesis 1:1 – “God made the world” “Jesus made 12”. He didn’t just give them a job and say ‘see if you can be helpful’. He gave these men a new soul, a new heart and a new life. As he did to Levi when he got Levi up from his tax collector booth with power, Levi would never have left that tax collector’s profitable booth but Christ made him new – he made him – and here he made 12.
I was talking with a Minister this week who is part of another state in the country, part of another diocese and he was telling me that when he was at Theological College he said he pretty well learned nothing because they concentrated on what they call “formation”.
He said that ‘formation’ is so superficial.
It’s got to do with how you walk in the building
And how you hold the Offertory Plate
And how you tilt your head for reading
And how you give somebody Communion.
He said it’s all surface.
Now we are so thankful that a Theological College which is a good Theological College they will teach you the Scriptures which have a transforming effect on you and a transforming effect (God willing) on those who listen. God transforms people. He doesn’t do superficial formation but he does profound transformation.
And he names of them, or nicknames them or re-names them just as in Genesis – there was a ‘naming process’.
The fifth thing to say that’s why these men are part of the solution. There is a frenzied crowd in chapter 3 verse 10 but the men in chapter 3 verses 14-15 move out to preach a gospel that changes people and are given power, the Apostles, to cast out demons which must have turned the tide of evil.
Of course Judas was unchanged, a tragic member, a betrayer in the 12. He had all the privileges and all the opportunities and yet he became ‘the betrayer’. He did this freely, he was not a robot, nobody made him do it, he wanted money, he was glad to take the money originally and betray Jesus but he fulfilled terrible Scriptures.
The sixth thing, quickly, is therefore the first role of the Apostles (verse 14) is to be with Jesus. This is the key to discipleship – to be with him and to walk with him and to listen to him and to see as the eye witnesses did what he did and then to report to later generations everything Jesus said and did.
How thankful we are to have these eye witnesses who walked with him and then recorded what he said and did and could say like John “we were there and we saw him” or like Peter “we were on the mountain and we saw and we heard”.
And then the seventh thing, verse 14 ‘they were sent out’. God’s people were gathered in the land in the Old Testament. God’s people were gathered to Jesus in the New Testament and then they were sent out, sent out with the Gospel. And these two paragraphs, as I say this, they are sort of like two photos hanging in an Art Gallery. One is a picture of problems, problems, and problems pressing in and one of them is a picture of brand new people going out.
I am reminded of that man in Mark chapter 5 who is demon possessed and is a complete drain on the community and meets Jesus and Jesus changes him and he becomes a fountain of blessing in his community – from a drain to a fountain – how often we see this. How often we see somebody who really is on a pirate ship and they cross over to Christ and they become so wonderfully used.
Now I want to finish this morning with some things to take away.
First of all, I say this especially to some of you who may be visitors – I hope you will receive not reject the life which Christ died to give you. He died to take the judgment and he offers to you as a free gift (it’s got nothing to do with deeds) as a free gift – Eternal Life.
I was reading an Obituary recently of a British lady who was a concert pianist and she taught music at Trinity College in London and she was described as ‘charming, dignified, cultured and kind’. Her life unravelled and she spent the last 26 years of her life in her car in a Ford Consul. And as I am reading this Obituary I am thinking to myself, why didn’t somebody help her? And the answer is – she would accept no charity of any kind from anyone.
Now may be that was her pride, I don’t know, but if a person says I am taking no charity from Christ – I’ve got my pride – that would be fatal. It’s the holding out of empty, humble hands and receiving what Christ gives which brings a brand new life that will go forever.
And then be careful to recognise Christ’s agenda and don’t impose on him your agenda. The crowds of course in Jesus’ day had plenty of ideas for him to perform. The critics today have plenty ideas of what the Church should be doing. But Jesus, as I say, is not interested in bandaging the world. Jesus is interested in ‘gospelling’ the world which brings the transformation.
Our need is not that we would have a good CV so God would love us –
Our need is that we would have a bad CV (which we have) and that we would bring it to him for forgiveness and new life.
Do concentrate also on the privilege, the 21st Century privilege, of walking with Christ and going for Christ. Of course we can’t do this physically like the Apostles. They actually walked geographically with him. But we are able to walk with him in real fellowship, reading his word, praying to him and we are also able to go with him and be his light, salt, city on a hill, wherever we go.
So I hope you will don’t wait for perfect circumstances,
Don’t say to yourself ‘gee I’ll be really keen one day when some miracle takes place’
Just say to yourself ‘it’s a new day,
Has God made me a new person?
Is he able to use me today?
I am available,
I want to use the resources that I have in his service.
Is it possible there are some people using the same resources that you have got better than you? Therefore we should use our clever brains that know how to plan so many things to plan how we can be more and more useful.
And lastly, I hope you will keep this wonderful truth in your mind when you are faced with the question – what’s God doing in his world? The answer is – he is making new people. New people who come into new community, who affect the world and wait for a New Creation and one of the things we may say to people who ask us “What is God doing?” is we may say to them ‘he is making new people – are you one?’